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Leading discussions about nursing with politicians across the UK

Pat Cullen 4 Mar 2022 Chief Executive and General Secretary

Pat Cullen, RCN Interim General Secretary and Chief Executive, reflects on the ongoing crisis in Ukraine and how our members across the UK continue to lobby to improve patient care.

To begin my update to you this week, I want to reflect on the terrible scenes we are seeing from health care settings in Ukraine. I know that as nursing professionals, you will feel the pain of those nursing staff as they try to deliver care to their patients in these extreme circumstances. Nursing staff are on the frontline in all countries facing conflicts – and I know they are all united in their commitment to patients. The international community must continue to come together in response to support nursing staff delivering health care – not only in Ukraine but countries facing conflict across Africa, Asia and the Middle East. We are here for any of our members affected by the situation in Ukraine or affected by conflicts across the world.

The Health and Care Bill continued its progress through Parliament this week with further debate in the House of Lords on some of the key changes we want to see in the bill. After lobbying by the RCN and others we made some key progress on Thursday. The Lords voted to force the UK Government to be transparent about the gaps in the nursing workforce. The government must accept this amendment and go further to take responsibility for addressing it. Only with this accountability will the nursing workforce get the investment it needs – and will patients be guaranteed the care they deserve.

Patient safety will be key to how we campaign on nursing pay this year too. Next week, we will be releasing the priorities our members are urging governments across the UK to address – if nursing staff are to have the resources to ensure patients receive the best possible care. We will be publishing our formal submission to the NHS Pay Review Body, which clearly states that for too long, the UK Government have supressed nursing wages. With the cost of living spiralling and increases in national insurance and pension contributions too, you need a significant pay rise. Please do look out for an email about this and further information about being active in the campaign for fair pay.

Your elected Council has just voted to invest in a new approach to working with members on the ground and your pay levels and staffing concerns are just some of the topics as part of our organising work. As ever, let’s not just get angry but get organised too.

We know there are thousands of nursing vacancies across the UK – this requires coordinated effort from governments. New workforce statistics for NHS Scotland published this week revealed a huge jump in the vacancy rate to a new record high of 9.3%, and in Scotland we continue to call for investment in the nursing workforce, implementation of the Safe Staffing legislation, increases to student nurse places and fair pay for nursing staff as measures to begin to address the nurse staffing crisis. And in England, nursing vacancies remain stubbornly high, at around 40,000 in the NHS. With every job that remains unfilled, safe patient care becomes even harder to maintain.

We continue to influence governments across the UK to ensure nursing is high on the political agenda. In my regular meetings with the Secretary of State for Health and Social Care, I share updates on the issues facing our members and the RCN’s solutions to these and hope he will hear from members directly soon. In Scotland this week, we submitted a response to the Scottish government consultation on the proposed changes to the NHS pension scheme. Our response was based on feedback from members currently in the scheme - we highlighted that the consultation period was too short and criticised that proposals were framed as being necessary to maintain NHS provision and patient care. The Scottish government has announced it will now defer implementation of any changes to the scheme until 1 October, in line with the recent announcement from the UK Government.

And in Wales, we recently launched our new report on the importance of ward managers being supernumerary as part of our influencing work. And as part of our #ForTheFullTeam campaign to extend section 25B of the Nurse Staffing Levels Act (Wales) 2016, we’re encouraging members across the UK to sign our petition on the Welsh Parliament website. Help us reach over 10,000 petition signatures to get this considered for a Senedd debate.

Finally in Northern Ireland we are looking ahead to the upcoming elections in May – we will be releasing our manifesto soon and will be supporting members to hold politicians to account so all parties commit to delivering our solutions for the profession and our patients.

Pat Cullen

Pat Cullen

General Secretary and Chief Executive

Pat has worked at the RCN since 2016. Before being appointed General Secretary and Chief Executive, Pat was Director of RCN Northern Ireland from May 2019 to April 2021.

Page last updated - 11/04/2022